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Climate Confusion in the Buckeye State

The good people of Ohio seem to be as concerned as most people in the United States about climate change, mostly agreeing that it is happening and something should be done about it. But they are also more confused on the basics—whether it is mainly human or naturally caused, and whether scientists agree or not about the essentials.

The latest in a salvo of polls from our friend Anthony Leiserowitz and his colleagues at the Yale Center for Climate Change Communications, this study follows on one in Colorado (pre-flooding), and California. (One of my colleagues is looking forward to the Climate Change in the Northern Marianan Mind, but evidently there are only three more of this series planned: Texas, Columbus, OH and San Francisco, CA.)

These reports follow a series of national studies that go back to 2008, including the most recent study from last spring entitled Americas' Global Warming Beliefs and Attitudes in April 2013.

Since these reports don't compare and contrast the states with each other or with the relevant national findings, I've summarized a few of the key findings below.

A couple of numbers pop out—the number of people at the national level who think scientists disagree compared with the individual states, and those nationwide who in April 2013 felt global warming was happening. The national figures of whether it is happening and whether scientists agree on the causes have varied substantially over years, which could in part be due to the relatively cold winter last year in many parts of the nation.

But as we've discussed previously and Leiserowitz and colleagues have noted before, most people never have learned the basics of climate change in a formal class. They rely on bits and pieces of information—sometimes contradictory—to form an opinion.

The cure for shallow understanding is clearly education. Massaging the message for emotional effect is currently the stragegy of "both sides" of the climate "debate". But until we reach some degree of critical mass in public understanding of the issue, we'll continue to spin our wheels or worse.

The good news is we are starting to make some headway, thanks to a convergence of factors that make sure climate and energy literacy are taught and taught well. But we're just getting started and we have a long way to go.